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April 14, 2008 

Afghans and Pakistanis "squeezing" Taliban and al Qaeda
By Robert Birsel Mon Apr 14, 9:09 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan-Pakistani border are increasingly facing pressure on two fronts and they can be squeezed with more coordination between the neighbors, a U.S. official said on Monday.

Red Cross: Change needed at US prison
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military should allow outside evidence to be presented at hearings at the U.S. military prison at Bagram to determine whether a detainee may be freed, the top international Red Cross official said Monday.

Eleven police, two British troops killed in Afghanistan
by Nasrat Shoaib Mon Apr 14, 7:16 AM ET
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan (AFP) - Dozens of Taliban militants stormed a police post in southern Afghanistan early Monday, shooting dead 11 policemen, while two British troops were killed in a blast, officials said.

Musharraf urges Chinese, Russian help on Afghan stability
Mon Apr 14, 5:26 AM ET
BEIJING (AFP) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Monday he would welcome a Central Asian grouping that includes China and Russia working alongside NATO to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Kouchner says Pakistan must help Kabul end violence
Mon Apr 14, 1:18 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that Taliban violence in Afghanistan could only be stopped with the aid of Pakistan, where rebels operate in lawless border areas.

Taliban grab coalition arms after drop
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 13, 5:44 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A coalition helicopter trying to supply Afghan police with munitions dropped them in the wrong location and Taliban fighters later recovered the weaponry, an intelligence official said Sunday.

AFGHANISTAN: ICRC working to deliver medical aid to volatile south
14 Apr 2008 16:09:55 GMT
KABUL, 14 April 2008 (IRIN) - Taliban insurgents have verbally agreed to allow safe passage to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to deliver medical humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected communities

Afghan, US-led troops arrest rebel commander
Mon Apr 14, 2:57 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan and US-led troops have detained six militants including a commander "directly" involved in the preparation of suicide attacks in eastern Afghanistan, the coalition military said Monday.
Pakistani, Afghan forces clash over flour smuggling
Mon, Apr 14 05:50 PM
Islamabad, April 14 (DPA) Pakistani paramilitary soldiers Monday engaged in a gunfight with Afghan forces along Balochistan border when the Pakistani forces tried to stop the smuggling of wheat flour, the military said in a statement.

In Afghanistan: 'Education is the future'
S.C. troops help build 16 schools in Kabul area
By CHUCK CRUMBO -The State - Apr 14 3:41 AM ccrumbo@thestate.com
DEH-YEHYA, Afghanistan — As the two white SUVs bounced, swayed and grunted up the deeply rutted road, Afghan children pressed against the windows of their classrooms for a closer look.

India running out of options in Afghanistan
14 Apr 2008, 0231 hrs IST,Rajeev Deshpande,TNN  Times of India, India
NEW DELHI: India’s vulnerability in Afghanistan, where it has launched a major effort to be part of the stabilisation process, has been cruelly exposed by Saturday’s suicide attack on a BRO convoy with a resurgent Taliban threatening

Afghanistan should be NATO's priority
Daily Star - Lebanon, Lebanon By Karl F. Inderfurth Commentary Monday, April 14, 2008
The recent NATO summit meeting in Bucharest came at a critical time for the 26-member alliance and its mission in Afghanistan. It also came at a critical time for the one country that can make or break that mission: Pakistan. NATO

Time for some positive talk about Afghanistan mission
Ottawa failing to communicate successes
Matthew Fisher, National Post Monday, April 14, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -Why won't the Harper government tell Canadians about the many successes and occasional failures of our men and women in Afghanistan?

India Firms to Build Metal Smelting Works in Afghan North
Monday, 14 April 2008, 06:00 CDT RedOrbit, TX
Text of report by state-owned National Afghanistan TV on 13 April
[Presenter] Mines Ministry and two private Indian companies signed a contract on construction of a metal smelting factory in Mazar-e Sharif city today.

IFC to offer Afghans $15-25 mln in financing-C.bank
By Daniel Bases
WASHINGTON, April 14 (Reuters) - The private sector lending arm of the World Bank has promised Afghanistan up to $25 million in loans to bolster its banking system, Central Bank Governor Abdul Qadeer Fitrat said late on Sunday.

War without freedom
The Age, Australia Waleed Aly April 14, 2008
AFGHANISTAN used to be our feel-good war. The regime really did turn out to have links with terrorists, and al-Qaeda suffered heavy losses there, at least until we invaded Iraq and breathed life into global terrorism. But above all

Afghans and Pakistanis "squeezing" Taliban and al Qaeda
By Robert Birsel Mon Apr 14, 9:09 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan-Pakistani border are increasingly facing pressure on two fronts and they can be squeezed with more coordination between the neighbors, a U.S. official said on Monday.

The Taliban have been battling U.S. and other foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2001.

Pakistani forces have also been fighting the militants, based in semi-autonomous tribal regions along the border, who have unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence in Pakistan since the middle of last year.

"To some extent, the extremists in those areas are now fighting on two fronts," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a news conference in Kabul.

"They have to deal with pressures from the Pakistan side and the pressure from the Afghan side. The more we can do that in concert with each other, the more squeezed the al Qaeda and Taliban supporters in those areas will feel," said Boucher who makes regular trips to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding out somewhere along the mountainous border.

Relations between the neighbors have been dogged by Afghan complaints Pakistan is not doing enough to wipe out Taliban sanctuaries and stop the flow of fighters and arms into Afghanistan.

But Boucher cited what he called renewed energy in relations between the two countries.

"What I have found in our discussions is a real commitment to work together, to coordinate with each other ... more intensely," he said.

"A LOT OF DETERMINATION"

A new Pakistani government, facing widespread opposition to Pakistan's alliance with the United States, has called for a reassessment of efforts against militancy and has said it will try to open negotiations with militants.

That has raised questions about Pakistan's security policy, especially with old U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf, who has overseen security for years, politically weak since his allies were defeated in a general election in February.

But Boucher said the Pakistanis were determined to tackle the problem.

"What we're seeing is now, first of all, a lot of Pakistanis unfortunately getting killed but also a lot of determination on the Pakistani side to deal with it," he said.

"We're working very hard with the new Pakistani government to take advantage of the opportunity to build democracy and help work with them against extremism," he said.

Boucher also dismissed Taliban threats of more violence.

"The Taliban threats this year of a winter wave seem to have gone the way of last year's spring offensive: it never really happened," he said.

Boucher welcomed efforts to improve coordination of international help for Afghanistan but said the country still faced big problems.

He cited weak governance, particularly at the local level, corruption and narcotics, which he said fed into graft and the insurgency.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin, and in some areas the Taliban are in league with the drug runners, security officials say.

(Editing by Valerie Lee)
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Red Cross: Change needed at US prison
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military should allow outside evidence to be presented at hearings at the U.S. military prison at Bagram to determine whether a detainee may be freed, the top international Red Cross official said Monday.

Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that many detainees held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan complain that they do not know why they are being held.

"They do not know what the future brings, how long will they be there and under which conditions will they be released," Kellenberger said after a weeklong visit to the country.

Kellenberger praised the establishment by U.S. officials of the "enemy combatant review board" in Afghanistan that every six months examines whether a detainee can be released. But he urged the military to allow outside evidence in the process. Such detainee hearings are not open to the public.

"I do consider the establishment of this body as progress but I think it was high time," Kellenberger said. "This body should also get the evidence from the persons outside, also evidence which can speak in favor of those who are detained ... Evidence of people who know them, so that this evidence is brought into the process."

U.S. military officials declined immediate comment.

The U.S. military does not make public the list of detainees nor the suspected offenses they are held on. Some of the detainees are fighters who were held after clashes or raids.

Unlike the U.S. prison at the base in Guantanamo, Cuba, the military does not allow journalists to visit the Bagram detention facility.

Kellenberger praised U.S. authorities for acting on some of the Red Cross recommendations, such as enabling video-conferencing between families and some of the 600-plus detainees held at the sprawling U.S. military base.

The ICRC and the U.S. military set up a video conferencing system this year that allows the Bagram prisoners to speak with and see family members, the only outside contact the prisoners are allowed to have.

Human rights groups accuse the U.S. military of holding prisoners without charge at facilities like Bagram, in some cases for more than five years.

In Iraq, the U.S. military currently holds about 23,000 detainees and schedules review hearings every six months to decide on release or continued custody. The system leaves open the possibility for detainees to introduce new evidence, but it rarely — if ever — occurs because the review is mostly focused on a detainee's conduct and statements while in custody.
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Eleven police, two British troops killed in Afghanistan
by Nasrat Shoaib Mon Apr 14, 7:16 AM ET
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan (AFP) - Dozens of Taliban militants stormed a police post in southern Afghanistan early Monday, shooting dead 11 policemen, while two British troops were killed in a blast, officials said.

The Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement that was ousted from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001, claimed responsibility for the attack on the policemen in troubled Kandahar province.

"One of our police posts was attacked in Arghandab district. At this point I can confirm that 11 policemen have been killed," deputy provincial police chief Amanuallah Khan told AFP.

Khan said it appeared that the insurgents were disguised in police uniforms and there were indications that the attack on the walled compound, launched just after midnight (1930 GMT), was an inside job.

"Initial investigations indicate that one of the policemen had ties with the Taliban. The Taliban infiltrated the post and opened fire on the police -- there was no exchange of fire," he said.

Police vehicles and weapons were also seized by the attackers, Khan said.

Local witnesses said they heard gunshots for about half an hour after the attack began at the site, which is on a road linking Kandahar to neighbouring Uruzgan province.

A burnt-out police pick-up truck and a motorcycle littered the scene while blood was spattered around the room where the policemen were killed, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary confirmed that 11 policemen were killed and another wounded but could not immediately confirm Khan's account of the attack.

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said rebels had seized 15 weapons and torched two vehicles in the assault on the police post. "We claim responsibility. Fifty Taliban carried out the attack," he told AFP.

The attack came hours after two British NATO soldiers were killed and two wounded by a blast near Kandahar Airfield, where thousands of foreign troops are based in an effort to tackle the Taliban insurgency.

The servicemen were conducting a routine patrol two kilometres (just over a mile) west of the base on Sunday evening "when the vehicle they were travelling in hit an explosive device," the British Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

"Medical care was given at the scene and all four servicemen were evacuated to the field hospital at Kandahar Airfield. Sadly, despite the best efforts of the medical team, two of the servicemen died as a result of their wounds."

Forty foreign soldiers have now died in Afghanistan this year, according to an AFP tally.

Kandahar province is where the Taliban rose to prominence in the early 1990s and is one of the worst hit regions in an insurgency led by the hardline militia since their ouster.

The French and Canadian foreign ministers visited Kandahar in the past week to witness the efforts of troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

More than 8,000 people, including 1,500 civilians and nearly 220 foreign troops, were slain in the conflict last year, according to a UN report.

Nearly 1,000 Afghan policemen were among the dead. The under-resourced Afghan police force, which lacks the equipment supplied to the US-backed Afghan army, is seen as a weak target by the Taliban.

Meanwhile Afghan and US-led troops arrested six militants including a commander "directly" involved in the preparation of suicide attacks in eastern Afghanistan, said the US-led coalition, which operates alongside ISAF.

Mohammad Ghanam, who was seized in Khost province bordering Pakistan on Friday, was part of the Haqqani network, the statement said, referring to a group headed by key Taliban-linked militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.
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Musharraf urges Chinese, Russian help on Afghan stability
Mon Apr 14, 5:26 AM ET
BEIJING (AFP) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Monday he would welcome a Central Asian grouping that includes China and Russia working alongside NATO to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

"In a joint cooperative effort, if the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) can do something, yes indeed it should come forward and cooperate toward the security of Afghanistan ... I'm for it," Musharraf told students following a speech at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

But "if the SCO can come along, then we would need to ensure that there is no confrontation with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)," he added.

The SCO, which also includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, would need to be committed to Afghanistan's stability for such a joint effort to work, Musharraf said.

Musharraf arrived in China on Friday for a regional economic forum in southern China and has held talks with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are SCO observer nations, along with other regional countries like Mongolia, Iran and India.

NATO-led forces dominated by the United States ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan more than six years ago, but the hardline Islamic militia has stepped up insurgency efforts over the past year.

About 70,000 foreign soldiers, most of them under NATO command, are in Afghanistan battling the Taliban.

During his speech, Musharraf also proposed building an oil pipeline from Iran to China that would pass through Pakistan.

"I believe in a corridor linking Pakistan and China, more road linkage, a rail link, fibre optics and oil and gas," Musharraf said.

"We are vying for a pipeline in Pakistan between Iran, Pakistan and India. We are calling it the I-P-I pipeline. So why can't this be the I-P-C pipeline between Iran, Pakistan and China?" he asked.

Musharraf said he raised the pipeline issue in his talks with China's leaders while also vowing to step up Pakistan-China bilateral trade volume to 15 billion dollars by 2011.

Pakistan is one of China's oldest allies in Asia, as Beijing has traditionally used the country as a counterbalance against India, the dominant power in the southern part of the continent.
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Kouchner says Pakistan must help Kabul end violence
Mon Apr 14, 1:18 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that Taliban violence in Afghanistan could only be stopped with the aid of Pakistan, where rebels operate in lawless border areas.

Kouchner made his comments on Sunday during a joint visit to the NATO air base in southern Kandahar with his Canadian counterpart Maxime Bernier. Both countries have troops deployed in the volatile area to help Kabul fight Taliban rebels.

"Further military means are needed in order for the process of securing Afghanistan to proceed... but there must also be a regional view, particularly with regards to neighbouring Pakistan," Kouchner told AFP.

He said he had on Saturday discussed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai efforts to step up security along the common border, which is 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) long, runs through difficult terrain and is difficult to patrol.

Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been fragile, with each accusing the other of not doing enough to tackle Islamic extremists behind a wave of deadly suicide blasts and other bombings on both sides of the porous border.

"This is an Afghan-Pakistan problem, but this incredible looseness which allows all sorts of trafficking cannot be allowed to continue," Kouchner said.

"This border problem needs to be resolved, and if we can take part in that process, that would be great," he added, saying he had plans to meet with Pakistan's new leadership, without providing details.

Kouchner and Bernier had travelled to Kandahar -- birthplace of the Taliban movement -- earlier Sunday in separate planes, to wrap up their two-day joint visit to Afghanistan.

They visited the French air force contingent serving with both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate US-led coalition.

Canada has around 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, 82 of whom have been killed since 2002.

France earlier this month pledged to nearly double the number of its forces in Afghanistan to 3,000. It currently has about 1,600 soldiers based in the Kabul region, and 160 troops at Kandahar air base.

A total of about 70,000 foreign soldiers, most of them under NATO command, are still locked down in Afghanistan battling the Taliban insurgency, launched shortly after they were ousted from power in late 2001.
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Taliban grab coalition arms after drop
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 13, 5:44 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A coalition helicopter trying to supply Afghan police with munitions dropped them in the wrong location and Taliban fighters later recovered the weaponry, an intelligence official said Sunday.

A member of parliament, however, said he did not believe the arms drop was an accident.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, told a parliament security committee "coalition forces" intended to place weapons, ammunition and food at a police checkpoint in a remote section of the southern province of Zabul in late March.

"By mistake it was dropped somewhere far from the checkpoint. Later the Taliban came and they picked it up," Saleh told reporters after addressing the committee.

In his testimony, he said a "small box" had been dropped but did not say how many weapons were inside.

It was not clear whose helicopter left the supplies. NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the U.S.-led coalition said it was not theirs.

Hamidullah Tukhi, a lawmaker from Zabul, told the security commission the weapons were placed 300 feet from the home of a Taliban commander named Mullah Mohammad Alam. He said the supply drop contained heavy machine guns, AK-47s, rockets and food.

Lawmakers discussed the issue with President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, he said.

"I think Gen. McNeill himself said that it was a mistake, but I don't believe it," Tukhi said, adding he did not know which nation dropped the supplies.

Saleh told journalists Tukhi's version of events was based on "rumors."
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AFGHANISTAN: ICRC working to deliver medical aid to volatile south
14 Apr 2008 16:09:55 GMT
KABUL, 14 April 2008 (IRIN) - Taliban insurgents have verbally agreed to allow safe passage to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to deliver medical humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected communities in parts of southern Afghanistan, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told IRIN.

"They [the Taliban] said they were very positive about our medical activities… they told us we could extend our medical activities to the south… I said to them it's time for us [to be] provided [with] credible and necessary security guarantees… Their response was positive," said Kellenberger, adding he would still like to see actions rather than words.

In line with ICRC policy and practice, Kellenberger did not reveal with whom the ICRC had talks - or where and when.

The ICRC, the UN and other international aid agencies have repeatedly raised concerns about the "diminishing" humanitarian space which has increasingly restricted aid workers' access to large swaths of southern Afghanistan.

During his seven-day visit to Afghanistan, Kellenberger said he was able to hold talks with all parties to the conflict, and conveyed ICRC's concerns about the plight of civilians and the condition of detainees.

According to the UN, 40 aid workers were killed (34 national, six international); 76 were abducted (44 national, 25 international); and 55 humanitarian aid convoys and 45 facilities were attacked from January to October 2007.

Security restrictions have also impeded UN agencies' access to over 77 districts in the southern, eastern and southeastern parts of the country since the beginning of 2007, UNAMA said.

International humanitarian law

The ICRC said that of the budgets for its top 10 humanitarian operations in the world, the 2008 budget for Afghanistan had gone up most.

Conflict-related violence and natural disasters have increased humanitarian needs and the number of those wounded in the fighting had risen steadily over the past two years, the ICRC president said in Kabul on 14 April.

The warring parties - Afghan and international forces, and Taliban insurgents - must distinguish civilian populations from combatants, use proportionate military force and ensure adequate precautionary measures to minimise the impact of war on non-combatants, the ICRC demanded.

However, Kellenberger said international humanitarian law was being violated and that civilians were being affected. "The conflict is forcing more and more people to flee their homes."

Uncertain future

US forces in Afghanistan allowed the ICRC president to visit some detainees in their main detention centre at Bagram Airbase, north of Kabul.

"I had a good dialogue in Bagram… and our recommendations were listened to," Kellenberger said, adding he was optimistic about further improvements in the way detainees were treated while kept in US military detention centres.

However, there were still a number of issues for many of the Bagram detainees. "The detainees did not know why they were there; what the future [will] bring; how long they will be there; and under what condition they will be released," Kellenberger told reporters in Kabul at the end of his visit.

US forces in Afghanistan recently established a body called the "Enemy Combatant Review Board" which is tasked with reviewing the fate of detainees every six months, said Kellenberger, who also called on the Afghan government to improve the condition of prisoners held in its prisons.

Human rights watchdogs, such as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, have repeatedly called on the Taliban to comply with international humanitarian law and avoid harming civilians; rights watchdogs have also criticised Taliban beheadings of prisoners.
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Afghan, US-led troops arrest rebel commander
Mon Apr 14, 2:57 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan and US-led troops have detained six militants including a commander "directly" involved in the preparation of suicide attacks in eastern Afghanistan, the coalition military said Monday.
Mohammad Ghanam and five other militants were captured during a raid by Afghan and US-led troops in the eastern province of Khost on Friday, the force said in a statement.

"Mohammad Ghanam, 33, was one of two militants who were the focus of the operation. He was directly involved in the preparation of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (IEDs)," it said.

The militant leader " has conducted attacks against coalition bases throughout Afghanistan," it added, without providing details of the attacks.

Ghanam was part of the Haqqani network, the statement said, referring to a group headed by key Taliban-linked militant leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, part of an insurgency against government and foreign forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Bomb-filled jackets and other ammunition were also found in the compounds where the men were caught, the statement said, adding that troops destroyed the weapons at the site.

Khost, a restive region on the Pakistani border, has experienced increased suicide bombings in recent months, including a March 3 car bombing that rammed a joint Afghan and US base, killing two US troops and two Afghan workers.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. The hardline movement, ousted from power in a US-led invasion at the end of 2001, are waging a growing insurgency and violence has spiked since early 2007.

More than 8,000 people, including 1,500 civilians and nearly 220 foreign troops, were slain in the conflict last year, according to a UN report.

More than 70,000 international troops are in Afghanistan to fight the insurgency and help the war-torn country rebuild.
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Pakistani, Afghan forces clash over flour smuggling
Mon, Apr 14 05:50 PM
Islamabad, April 14 (DPA) Pakistani paramilitary soldiers Monday engaged in a gunfight with Afghan forces along Balochistan border when the Pakistani forces tried to stop the smuggling of wheat flour, the military said in a statement.

Afghan forces engaged a Pakistani post near the Chaman border crossing, located some 150 km north-west of Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, after Pakistani troops fired warning shots at three pickup trucks loaded with bags of flour.

The Frontier Corps troops had earlier signalled the vehicles to stop but the drivers ignored the directions and responded with gun fire.

Amid the exchange of fire that took place at around 6:30 am (0130 GMT), one of the vehicle was disabled but the other two crossed into Afghan territory.

Both sides stopped the fire after several hours of skirmishes and their commanders later discussed the incident in a meeting held at the Chaman border crossing.

Pakistan has banned the export of wheat flour to Afghanistan in the wake of the staple's shortage in local markets. However, Afghans settled along the border regularly smuggle flour due to its exorbitant prices in the war-ravaged country.

The pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal region have also clamped down on wheat flour smuggling, and seized two dozen trucks last week in North Waziristan that were transporting the commodity to Afghanistan.

On Monday, three vehicles were intercepted by Islamic militants in another tribal district of Mohmand agency and the truck drivers were detained.
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In Afghanistan: 'Education is the future'
S.C. troops help build 16 schools in Kabul area
By CHUCK CRUMBO -The State - Apr 14 3:41 AM ccrumbo@thestate.com
DEH-YEHYA, Afghanistan — As the two white SUVs bounced, swayed and grunted up the deeply rutted road, Afghan children pressed against the windows of their classrooms for a closer look.

The kids watched a half-dozen soldiers get out of the vehicles, greet school officials and, then, unload notebooks and pencils.

While the students were ecstatic about getting the notebooks, something much bigger was planned.

Higher up the hill, a one-story, bright yellow building that would be their new high school was about to be dedicated.

The school is one of 16 that the S.C. National Guard has under construction or has opened during the past year in the Kabul area.

The S.C. Guard’s 218th Brigade Combat Team has been here to train Afghan security forces so that they can defeat the Taliban. But, at the same time, the S.C. soldiers also were battling one of Afghanistan’s other worst enemies — illiteracy.

“It is the belief of the coalition forces, the people of the United States and the people standing here that education is the future of Afghanistan,” said S.C. National Guard Col. Chuck Murff of Spartanburg.

Murff then cut the sky-blue ribbon stretched across the high school’s main building.

HOPING TO ‘REPLACE THE IGNORANCE’
Afghanistan’s education needs are huge.

Almost three of five Afghan men and nine of 10 women are illiterate. Having a poorly educated, unskilled population poses a major roadblock to developing Afghanistan, the world’s fourth-poorest country.

The combination of illiteracy and poverty helps the Taliban. U.S. military commanders say the Taliban recruits and brainwashes uneducated teens and young adults to be its foot soldiers and suicide bombers.

Education has become a booming business since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001.

According to government reports, more than 7 million Afghan children — including 2 million girls — now are in school. That’s up from 1.2 million in 2001.

The S.C. troops say that building schools is another way to fight back against insurgent forces and win friends among the Afghans.

Capt. David Brooks, a civil affairs officer with the 218th, made that point when visiting Aziz Afghan School, where 4,500 students attend grades 1-9.

The school is near the main route to Kabul International Airport. Military convoys frequently travel the route and occasionally are targeted by suicide bombers or struck by bombs planted along the road.

“Hopefully, education will replace the ignorance that makes people do these violent acts,” said Brooks of Cheraw.

The schools that the S.C. troops build offer students and teachers the basics: a roof, electrical outlets and indoor bathrooms.

The structures are one-story, concrete block buildings with 10 to 16 classrooms. The walls are cream-colored, and the floors are bare concrete.

Chalkboards simply are a large, black rectangle painted on the classroom’s front wall. However, some buildings have a small library and computer lab.

A school costs between $185,000 and $200,000 to build. The troops keep the figure under $200,000 so that the school can be paid for from a special fund — the Commander’s Emergency Response Program.

Designed to cut red tape and get special projects, including schools and medical clinics, built quickly, projects paid for from that fund need only the approval of Brig. Gen. Bob Livingston, commander of the 218th and Task Force Phoenix.

Under an agreement with the Afghan government, the United States pays for the buildings. The Afghan Ministry of Education provides the teachers, books and equipment, Murff said.

‘WE COULD NOT HAVE SCHOOL’
Even though it’s bare bones, the new high school is a boon for the rapidly growing area around Deh-yehya, said principal Sayed Zaywarudin.

More than 2,000 children, in grades 1-12, attend the school, going in three shifts. For the school’s 36 teachers, the workday runs from 7 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., six days a week.

The school has come a long way since principal Zaywarudin was a student 20 years ago.

“When I was first a student at this school, we had to study on a cloth on the ground,” he said. “We had only one building. Now, we have four.”

Still, many Afghan schools continue to hold classes in a tent or outside in the courtyard. The lack of classroom space is more acute for girls, who are taught separately from boys. Afghan education officials say about 60 percent of girls attend classes outdoors or in tents.

Because girls’ schools often are targets of the Taliban, who believe women should not be educated, many parents keep their daughters out of the classroom.

Most attacks on girls’ schools have been in rural, southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban has its roots. But school officials in Kabul also worry about security.

During a recent visit to a construction site at a girls’ school in north Kabul, Murff was pressed by the principal to increase the height of the campus’ perimeter wall.

“The wall is not high enough,” girls’ school principal Rabia Abdullah complained. “Anyone can climb over it.”

Murff said the wall would have to be taken care of in a separate project. His priority was seeing the completion of a 16-classroom building and four-room addition.

An educator for some 30 years, Abdullah said her school, in the heart of a bustling commercial and residential section of Kabul, has 7,000 students in grades 1-12 who attend in three shifts.

Girls’ schools have been growing since the ouster of the Taliban, said Abdullah, watching students wearing white scarves and black smocks race across the courtyard during recess.

“When the Taliban was here, we could not have school,” she said. “Girls were educated at home.”

‘AN EDUCATION IS VERY IMPORTANT’
At Deh-yehya, the boys look forward to studying in their new high school.

“I’m very happy about it,” said 15-year-old Safi Ullah. “I like to be educated.”

The boy, who comes from a family in which no one has gone past the seventh grade, plans to become a teacher or government worker.

“Getting an education is very important if I want a good future and good-paying job,” Ullah said.

A fifth-grader, Mohammad Wasim hopes to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a poet and writer.

Both of his parents are educated — in Afghanistan, that means they are high school graduates — and his father is a colonel in the Afghan police, Wasim said.

An avid reader, Wasim, 11, enjoys watching “Tom & Jerry” cartoons on Kabul television. “But I like writing poetry the best,” he added.

Another fifth-grader, 11-year-old Mohammand Ayub, dreams of being a doctor.

Ayub, who proudly boasts he is ranked first in his class academically, said his father and older brother both are college graduates.

Being a doctor is an “honorable skill to have,” Ayub said. “I want to serve my people and my country.”
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India running out of options in Afghanistan
14 Apr 2008, 0231 hrs IST,Rajeev Deshpande,TNN  Times of India, India
NEW DELHI: India’s vulnerability in Afghanistan, where it has launched a major effort to be part of the stabilisation process, has been cruelly exposed by Saturday’s suicide attack on a BRO convoy with a resurgent Taliban threatening New Delhi’s hard-won gains in the land-locked nation.

With developments in Afghanistan having a direct bearing on India’s security situation, the killing of two engineers and injury to five workers is a grim reminder that New Delhi’s toehold in the region remains quite precarious. Maintaining a presence amid highly unsettled conditions is becoming a taxing task for India.

The Afghanistan outreach is part of India’s bid to ensure that it did not get locked out of the region as was the case when Pakistan’s ISI used the area to achieve “strategic depth” for its operations against India. Under Taliban rule, jihadis were freely trained, equipped and financed for attacks on Indian targets in Kashmir and elsewhere.

But the Manmohan Singh government’s attempt to ensure that the bitter lessons of Taliban era were not lost has now come under severe stress.

With the government only able to offer limited security to its operations by way of an ITBP presence, the development projects are very susceptible to attacks.

Unlike NATO countries, India does not have forces on the ground, an option ruled out due to UPA’s political sensibilities.

The Zaranj-Delaram highway project was an obvious target and even a specific warning could not help protect the ill-fated BRO crew. In an open area it was virtually impossible to prevent a suicide bomber from carrying out an attack. On an unguarded stretch of road through a wild country, no sanitised zone was possible as might be the case in an urban centre.

The prognosis is that there will no let up in the attacks as Taliban elements see development projects as a direct threat to their influence. They do not want the remote vastness of Afghanistan to become more accessible and see India as an "enemy" nation and have long identified Kashmir as a "jihadi" cause.

Security officials are concerned that Taliban elements, operating with the support of sanctuaries in Pakistan, are growing stronger. They are drawing encouragement through a firm belief that the West was tiring and saw statements of European leaders calling for a dialogue with Taliban as sure signs of weakness.

The Taliban presence in Pakistan is quite entrenched. Though Pakistan would not find any reason to discourage attacks on Indian projects, the Taliban may not be tied to ISI’s apron strings. It’s leader Baitullah Mehsud has established an "autonomous" zone and is engaged in a serious battle with the Pakistan army.

Though popularly seen as part of America’s war, the fight is very much Islamabad’s.

Sourced admitted that India had possibly the most to lose if Afghanistan slipped under Taliban control. But it was difficult to do more to bolster the Hamid Karzai regime given the inability to directly take part in peacekeeping operations. While the coalition forces had failed to contain the Taliban, the writ of the Karzai government was very limited.

India was faced with a difficult choice. Even though the Taliban and the Pakistan army are at one another’s throats, the situation has hardly improved in Afghanistan. In a bid to stay engaged, India’s assistance to "rebuilding" Afghanistan would have to continue. At the same time, this will leave Indian personnel defenceless against kidnapping and murder.
rajeev.deshpande@timesgroup.com 
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Afghanistan should be NATO's priority
Daily Star - Lebanon, Lebanon By Karl F. Inderfurth Commentary Monday, April 14, 2008
The recent NATO summit meeting in Bucharest came at a critical time for the 26-member alliance and its mission in Afghanistan. It also came at a critical time for the one country that can make or break that mission: Pakistan. NATO is collectively holding its breath as the Musharraf era comes to a close, replaced by a new and uncertain civilian political leadership and accompanied by a continuing rise in extremist violence. A month-long surge in suicide bombings has put the country on edge. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, said during his recent visit to Washington that as soon as the new Pakistan government is in place, he would travel to Islamabad. After Bucharest there is no better destination to reinforce NATO's Afghan mission.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked. There can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if Pakistan is not a part of the solution. The future stability of both depends on the development of an effective regional strategy to counter and uproot the Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal border areas. Despite Pakistan's counter-insurgency efforts over the last four years (or lack thereof, according to the critics), the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have developed a stronghold in this region that bolsters the Taliban's capabilities against coalition forces in Afghanistan, poses a direct threat to the Pakistani state itself, and facilitates Al-Qaeda planning and execution of global terrorist plots, including those directed against the United States.

What can be done about this interconnected set of problems?

Countering cross border infiltration is the immediate priority. The Trilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan-NATO Military Commission is an important mechanism in this regard. So is the strengthening of the United States military presence along the Afghan side of the border, which the latest US Marine contingent now arriving in Afghanistan will assist, as will the opening of the first of six joint US-Afghan-Pakistani military intelligence centers along the border.

Washington also needs to work more closely with Pakistan in joint counter-terrorism operations. The possibility for collaboration exists, as evidenced by the missile strike in North Waziristan earlier this year that killed the senior Al-Qaeda operative Abu Laith al-Libi. But these operations are highly sensitive and politically charged in the tribal areas and must be pursued through quiet behind-the-scenes efforts with Pakistan political and military leaders.

In addition, any large-scale outside military intervention in Pakistan's tribal areas would be disastrous for the Pakistani state and US interests and would not provide a lasting solution to the problem.

A more effective strategy involves working cooperatively with Pakistan's new leadership to integrate these areas into the Pakistani political system and, once they are secure, provide substantial assistance (along with the European Union, the World Bank and other donors) to build up their economy and social infrastructure. As Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Mahmud Duranni, has said, what is needed in these areas is a "multi-pronged strategy. That is, military force, development and empowerment of the people. Using force alone is not the answer."

Over the longer term, the region requires a new compact that addresses Afghanistan and Pakistan's political, economic and security concerns and seeks to neutralize regional and great power rivalries. To accomplish this, the United Nations should convene an international conference attended by all of Afghanistan's neighbors and other concerned major powers, a task that should be added to the agenda of the newly appointed UN envoy for Afghanistan, the Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide.

The goal would be a multilateral accord that recognizes Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan (the Durand Line of 1893 is still in dispute); pledges non-interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs; affirms that, like the Congress of Vienna accord for Switzerland, Afghanistan should be internationally accepted as a permanently neutral state; and establishes a comprehensive international regime to remove obstacles to the flow of trade across Afghanistan, the key to establishing a vibrant commercial network that would benefit the entire region.

And such an agreement would have another positive corollary - it would provide the basis for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO military forces from a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Karl F. Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, served as US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service.
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Time for some positive talk about Afghanistan mission
Ottawa failing to communicate successes
Matthew Fisher, National Post Monday, April 14, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -Why won't the Harper government tell Canadians about the many successes and occasional failures of our men and women in Afghanistan?

This question is especially pertinent today because the Harper government's new point man on Afghanistan, Trade Minister David Emerson, who is virtually unknown to troops of all ranks, is seeking to create even greater political oversight of what has become such a micro-managed mission that several senior public affairs officers have quit in disgust or are about to.

The leaders of the militar y's communications strategy are livid because their jobs have narrowed to the point where their chief role is to seek the Prime Minister's Office's permission to release any scrap of information -- and the answer is usually no.

On top of this, several senior officers serving in Afghanistan have complained bitterly in private about being muzzled by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

It has been reported Emerson may use quarterly reports to Parliament to seek to lower expectations for what Canada hopes to achieve in South Asia during the next three years. At the same time he will try to switch the media focus away from casualties to what have been vaguely described as other benchmarks.

As the Manley report on the Afghan mission noted several months ago, the government has done an abysmal job of communicating what has been going on in Afghanistan and why Canada has decided to expend so much treasure and blood there.

The planned new openness will rub awkwardly against ever more draconian, often absurd Op-Sec (operational security) rules imposed on the military and the media whose true purpose has often had far more to do with limiting potential political damage to the government than with protecting troops.

For example, if it was not for Op-Sec, Canadians might know that joint Canadian/ Afghan operations involving soldiers and police have scored some big successes in recent weeks. So have Canadian snipers. And a tank crew was able to eliminate several insurgents moments after they opened fire on a Canadian base.

The least heralded troops of all have been the commandos of Joint Task Force II. Canadians have never been told anything these phantoms do, even years after the fact.

Ironically, the only acknowledgement of their successes in Afghanistan has come from General Dan Mc-Neill.

The gruff American four star, who is NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, revealed in an interview in Kabul last month that Canada's special forces had done "some mighty fine work against insurgent bombers last year."

Obviously unaware of the total news blackout of their operations, McNeill wondered why the JTF had not received media attention in Canada.

One can only guess at the reasons that Canadians have not been told that their soldiers have the insurgents on the run in Kandahar.

Ottawa may feel so hamstrung by the false notion that Canada is a nation of peacekeepers that it does not want the public to know that their soldiers, like their fathers and grandfathers before them in Korea and Europe, can, when required, be very adept killers.

By refusing to tell Canadians anything about these operations, or others that have raised grave questions about the wisdom of using a certain type of armoured vehicle (to say more would be to violate Op-Sec), the government has only itself to blame for allowing the political debate at home to become dominated by the death toll (which, incidentally, is much, much lower than the unannounced death toll of the enemy).

This absence of plain talk about Afghanistan has also allowed some media to create a sense of constantly impending doom by relying on unchallenged boasts from dodgy, purported members of the Taliban or on reports issued by the UN or international think-tanks that have been larded with ominous statistics about a surge in Taliban suicide bombings and of explosions caused by homemade bombs.

It is puzzling that the government is so paranoid about the Afghan operation that it feels it necessary to maintain a stranglehold on the flow of information from there.

Between 85% and 90% of Canadians support the military. Slightly more than half of the population supports the Afghan mission despite the losses.

Faced with what these numbers represent politically, the Liberals voted to extend the mission to 2011 without putting up much of a fuss.

The Harper government does not need to tell Parliament the truth about Afghanistan every three months. It needs to tell Canadians the truth every day.
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India Firms to Build Metal Smelting Works in Afghan North
Monday, 14 April 2008, 06:00 CDT RedOrbit, TX
Text of report by state-owned National Afghanistan TV on 13 April
[Presenter] Mines Ministry and two private Indian companies signed a contract on construction of a metal smelting factory in Mazar-e Sharif city today.

The factory will be built with a primary investment of 15m dollars.

According to an official of the Mines Ministry, the factory will use spare metals as raw material, and will smelt 200 to 250 tonnes of scrap metal every day and produce girder.

The factory will also provide employment to around 300 people.

Originally published by National Afghanistan TV, Kabul, in Dari and Pashto 1530 13 Apr 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring South Asia. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.
Source: BBC Monitoring South Asia
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IFC to offer Afghans $15-25 mln in financing-C.bank
By Daniel Bases
WASHINGTON, April 14 (Reuters) - The private sector lending arm of the World Bank has promised Afghanistan up to $25 million in loans to bolster its banking system, Central Bank Governor Abdul Qadeer Fitrat said late on Sunday.

Fitrat, who took over the country's top banking job in November 2007, said the talks with the International Finance Corporation were still at and early stage therefore the type of loans was not yet finalized.

"We had very useful discussions with the IFC. We got some promise of between $15-$25 million in medium to long-term lending for SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) and mortgages," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Afghan banking system has just $1.56 billion worth of deposits and shareholder capital, spread among 16 banks.

"Three months ago it was $1.4 billion," Fitrat said.

In contrast, the value of opium produced in Afghanistan to be made into heroin was estimated at $4 billion in 2007, compared with $2.7 billion in 2005, according to the United Nations.

Fitrat said the IFC promised to issue $5 million worth of loans to Brac Bank, $10 million to First MicroFinanceBank of Afghanistan which is run by the Agha Khan Foundation, and between $5-10 million to Kabul-based Azizi Bank.

He added that similar discussions were under way with the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Developing medium and long-term financing options is a top priority for the government in Kabul and part of its plan to increase the size of the formal economy.

"It is just my estimate, that 2/3 of the financial assets of the economy are still in the informal markets. In terms of the economy, probably ¾ of the economy is still informal," he said.

The central bank reserves are roughly $3 billion, he said.

ECONOMIC GROWTH
With such a large portion of the economy still unreported, estimating economic growth and inflation are tough.

Economic growth is expected to rebound to 13.5 percent in the year started March 21 from 6.1 percent in 2006/2007 when the economy was hit by a drought, Fitrat said.

He said Afghanistan, like the rest of the world, was experiencing high inflation driven by food and fuel prices, but he was optimistic it would start to decline.

Inflation was dipping below the 20 percent level by the end of the fiscal year in March.

"We are hopeful it will come down to around 10 percent by early to mid-summer," Fitrat said, adding that harvests should help ease food price inflation.

He said he hoped a rise in lending and business development would boost such sectors as telecommunications, media and banking, reducing agriculture's prominent role in overall economic activity. Right now, farming accounts for roughly 35 percent of the Afghan economy, he said.

MONEY LAUNDERING
Since the overthrow of the hard-line Islamist Taliban by U.S. led and Afghan forces in 2001, illegal activities associated with the growing of poppies for opium production and terror financing rank near the top of the bank's surveillance agenda.

Asked if the reappearance of the Taliban was a drain on the economy, Fitrat said: It has had some impact on the economy, in terms of tax collections, customs collections, reconstruction work in those Taliban infested areas. The impact, I can say, is quite significant."

Despite the presence of more than 50,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military, as well as some 140,000 Afghan troops, militants have made a comeback in the past two years, and more than 11,000 people have been killed in violence.

In an effort to make its surveillance more effective, the bank was opening up six regional offices and getting members of its financial intelligence section liaise with border agents to help track large physical transfers of cash, Fitrat said.

Part of that process includes the licensing of informal hawala brokers. Hawala is an informal system used widely in the region that allows money to be exchanged between traders through a handshake, a piece of paper or on trust.

Hawala is thought to be one route for financing terrorism.

"But we don't want to crack down on hawala dealers. We want to regulate them. We want them to report every large currency transaction," he said. (Editing by Tomasz Janowski)
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War without freedom
The Age, Australia Waleed Aly April 14, 2008
AFGHANISTAN used to be our feel-good war. The regime really did turn out to have links with terrorists, and al-Qaeda suffered heavy losses there, at least until we invaded Iraq and breathed life into global terrorism. But above all, Afghanistan delivered the altruism of liberation long after similar ideals evaporated in the violent chaos of Iraq.

With the Taliban gone, and Hamid Karzai installed as President, freedom would be irrepressible. The people of Afghanistan would once more be enchanted by music and warmed by the glow of television.

Most symbolic were the Afghan women. No more beatings, no more repression, and especially, no more burqas. They would march in the Taliban's wake towards the equality with which we endowed them.
So the troops went in, and we looked elsewhere. With Iraq in turmoil, Afghanistan became the forgotten war. Last month's fifth anniversary of the Iraqi invasion inspired a wave of reflective commentary. Scan the papers in early October 2006, the fifth anniversary of the Afghan war, and you'll find barely a trickle. Perhaps we just assumed all was well.

But it isn't. The Taliban is resurgent, and al-Qaeda is flourishing again. Just this week NATO said it would send significantly more troops in 2009.

And what of the women? There's news here, too, and it's not terribly inspiring.

A recent report by British-based women's rights group Womankind has concluded that Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Around 80% of women are affected by domestic violence; over 60% of marriages are forced, some of them between elderly men and girls as young as eight; half of Afghanistan's girls are married before the age of 16.

The parade of statistics is numbing, but it gets worse: so bad is the brutality that Afghan women are setting themselves on fire to escape it.

There have been some gains, mostly on paper. But Womankind's snapshot is explicit: "Seven years after the US and the UK 'freed' Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases."

We have no right to be surprised about this. Certainly, the Taliban's resurgence has not helped, but the truth is that if we had bothered to familiarise ourselves with the experiences of Afghan women before we championed their cause, this would have been sadly predictable.

Indeed, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) — the organisation bravely responsible for bringing horrific images of Taliban brutality to the world — opposed the US-led invasion because it understood that their suffering was too complex and deeply rooted to be sheeted home to a singular villainous organism called the Taliban. It is the product of a nation ravaged by decades of war, with all the feudal social structures, entrenched poverty, illiteracy and corrosive brutality that this nurtures. Such dynamics cannot simply be excised militarily. The Taliban was a symptom as much as a cause.

RAWA tried to tell us that Afghan women had already been "crushed and brutalised  under the chains and atrocities of the Northern Alliance fundamentalists". That is probably an understatement. The Northern Alliance had killed 50,000 civilians during its rule in the 1990s, systematically raping thousands of women and girls and causing others to commit suicide.

Yet it was the Northern Alliance that would be our proxies in Afghanistan. These were the good guys; our fellow liberators of Afghan women. We should not have been surprised when, soon after the invasion, an international NGO worker told Amnesty International that "during the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she's raped".

That is the reality for the symbolic faces of this war: the women whose images and struggles we appropriated in our righteousness. But it is a reality we no longer acknowledge. Our mainstream political narrative begins with the Taliban's brutal misogyny and ends with our liberating venture. We imagine no prequels and sequels to this ghastly drama.

This exposes the political opportunism of so much pre-war benevolence. The unthinking construction of the Taliban as the singular source of Afghan misogyny was obviously misguided, but it was undoubtedly convenient. For a moment in 2001, Western foreign policy became a feminist enterprise. US President George Bush took action for these "women of cover", while then secretary of state Colin Powell assured us their rights "will not be negotiable". Even Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, very much in their capacity as women, spruiked extraordinarily for the war. That feminist zeal has since dimmed considerably.

Let us now admit the women of Afghanistan were used for their rhetorical potency. Now, their political utility is spent and so is our concern for them. Such cynical politicking was unnecessary. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Western governments had perfectly legitimate security grounds for taking action. Whatever your view of the war, that position at least had some integrity. But let us not pretend our political classes ever cared greatly for the people of Afghanistan. Whatever the soaring rhetoric, we did not truly have liberation on our minds.

Gender equality in Afghanistan is not ultimately about defeating the Taliban; it's about rebuilding civil society. Without investing heavily in women's health and education, and, most importantly, nurturing the rule of law, misogyny will flourish forever. That process will take decades, but if we are serious about improving the lives of Afghan women that is what it means, in Kevin Rudd's phrase, to be in it for the "long haul".

Waleed Aly is the author of People Like Us: how arrogance is dividing Islam and the West (Picador).

RAWA tried to tell us that Afghan women had already been "crushed and brutalised under the chains and atrocities of the Northern Alliance fundamentalists". That is probably an understatement. The Northern Alliance had killed 50,000 civilians during its rule in the 1990s, systematically raping thousands of women and girls and causing others to commit suicide.

Yet it was the Northern Alliance that would be our proxies in Afghanistan. These were the good guys; our fellow liberators of Afghan women. We should not have been surprised when, soon after the invasion, an international NGO worker told Amnesty International that "during the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she's raped".

That is the reality for the symbolic faces of this war: the women whose images and struggles we appropriated in our righteousness. But it is a reality we no longer acknowledge. Our mainstream political narrative begins with the Taliban's brutal misogyny and ends with our liberating venture. We imagine no prequels and sequels to this ghastly drama.

This exposes the political opportunism of so much pre-war benevolence. The unthinking construction of the Taliban as the singular source of Afghan misogyny was obviously misguided, but it was undoubtedly convenient. For a moment in 2001, Western foreign policy became a feminist enterprise. US President George Bush took action for these "women of cover", while then secretary of state Colin Powell assured us their rights "will not be negotiable". Even Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, very much in their capacity as women, spruiked extraordinarily for the war. That feminist zeal has since dimmed considerably.

Let us now admit the women of Afghanistan were used for their rhetorical potency. Now, their political utility is spent and so is our concern for them. Such cynical politicking was unnecessary. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Western governments had perfectly legitimate security grounds for taking action. Whatever your view of the war, that position at least had some integrity. But let us not pretend our political classes ever cared greatly for the people of Afghanistan. Whatever the soaring rhetoric, we did not truly have liberation on our minds.

Gender equality in Afghanistan is not ultimately about defeating the Taliban; it's about rebuilding civil society. Without investing heavily in women's health and education, and, most importantly, nurturing the rule of law, misogyny will flourish forever. That process will take decades, but if we are serious about improving the lives of Afghan women that is what it means, in Kevin Rudd's phrase, to be in it for the "long haul".

Waleed Aly is the author of People Like Us: how arrogance is dividing Islam and the West (Picador).  
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